Santa Fe/ Battle Over Proposed Changes for Teacher Evaluations
By Hailey Heinz
ABQ Journal Staff Writer
July 19, 2012
Teachers, parents and administrators packed a hearing room Wednesday, most to speak
against the Public Education Department's proposal to evaluate teachers based partly on
their students' test score improvement.
Outside, a protest was spearheaded by the New Mexico chapter of the American Federation of
Teachers. Protesters held signs and chanted, and at times their chants could be heard through the
walls of the hearing room, underscoring the contentious nature of the proposal.
Many said they would welcome reform of the state's teacher evaluation system but believe
the current rule had been rushed and won't adequately account for challenges students
face outside the classroom.
Charles Bowyer, executive director of the state chapter of the National
Education Association, a teacher union claiming about 8,000 members statewide,
spoke in support of the rule. However, he said it was a compromise and there are
things he does not like.
Kelly McMahan, who teaches special education at Polk Middle School, said the
proposed system is based on things that are easy to measure, like test scores, but
not the things that are most important, like critical thinking.
"I believe the PED is not committed to creating an evaluation system that is useful, but it is
committed to doing it now," McMahan said. "When something as important and complex as
evaluating the effectiveness of teachers is rushed, the results will be shoddy."
Many teachers in the hearing room wore blue AFT T-shirts, and some stood in the back of the
room with signs that read, "Skandera's reforms are failing Florida. They're wrong for NM!"
State education chief Hanna Skandera, who worked in Florida before coming to New Mexico,
has pushed for several reforms in New Mexico that are part of the "Florida model" of education
reform. Florida became a focal point of education reform in 2009 after its fourth-graders showed
striking gains in reading. Since then, however, outcomes in Florida have been more mixed.
Twice, Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez have pushed for the Legislature to replace the
current teacher evaluation system with one based on student test score gains. After those efforts
failed in the most recent session, Skandera began moving to overhaul the evaluation system
through administrative rule. She plans to adopt the system in about 30 pilot schools this fall, and
then go statewide the following year.
As written, the rule requires that half of a teacher's evaluation be based on student
For those who teach grades and subjects tested by the Standards-Based Assessment,
35 percent of their evaluation would be based on how much students' performance
improved on the SBA.
The other 15 percent would be based on other assessments, to be developed by
Teachers in non-tested grades and subjects would have half of their evaluations based on
assessments developed by the district. The SBA tests math and reading, and it is taken in
grades three through eight, 10 and 11.
The rest of a teacher's evaluation would be based on classroom observations, worth
25 percent, and
other measures of effectiveness, to be developed by districts, worth the final 25
The rule also includes evaluations for principals, which would be
based on their school's A-F letter grade,
how thoroughly they observe the teachers at their school and
other measures to be developed later.
Carlo Lucero, speaking for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said his group
supports the rule.
"The business community is very interested in education reform, and we think this is a great first
step," he said.
While supporting the rule, Bowyer said he would like districts to have more flexibility about how
they measure student achievement. So instead of having to base 35 percent of the grade on SBA
improvement, Bowyer said he would like to see districts able to decide how best to measure
He also said the PED must be transparent about the formula it will use to measure test score
The PED plans to use a "value-added model" that uses statistics to control for factors like
poverty and special needs. The idea is to control for everything outside a teacher's purview
and measure the "value" he or she adds to a student's knowledge.
Bowyer said the model needs to be thoroughly explained to teachers so they understand how
they're being evaluated.
"There's a lack of clarity and ability to make teachers understand value-added," Bowyer said. "It
can't just be a black box where we put numbers in and get numbers out."
He said teachers are unlikely to buy into a system if they don't understand how their scores are
But Bowyer also applauded aspects of the proposal, such as making sure principals are
accountable for quality teacher observations, and starting the idea as a pilot before it is used
Common concerns at the hearing included truancy, special education and native languages.
Several teachers said they should not be held responsible for the progress of students who
seldom come to class. Others wondered how well the system would take into account students
with severe special needs, whose progress may not be measurable on the SBA.